The Fale Dojo February Intake have reached the halfway point in their three-month journey. The students converged from various parts of the world to Otahuhu, Auckland at the Fale Dojo where they started the process of being trained (or in the case of others retrained) physically, mentally and culturally so that they would re-emerge as refined versions of themselves. Known to the wrestling world as the Young Lions, they have learned to journey together as a pride. This, of course, will become an advantage to them as they will learn to navigate through the wrestling business with honour.
Fale Dojo’s General Manager / Coach, Mark Tui reflected on the lions’ progress thus far.
“The Young Lions are doing very well,” said Tui.
“They have shown a lot of improvement not just within their training but also around Dojo etiquette.”
“The lions take great pride in everything they do and are not afraid to try new things and are very open-minded.”
Tui pointed out the students have much to learn in the remainder of training. He commended the Young Lions for their initiative in seeking advice from the trainers on how to improve. Tui also acknowledged the group’s warm and grounded nature as this type of character will serve them well in the wrestling profession.
“They still have a long way to go and they all know that as they always ask for constructive feedback which is part of their learning,” Tui added.
“But what makes this group great is that they are very humble and polite, which I believe will take them far.”
As the Young Lions look ahead to the second half of their training, Tui has urged them to keep their momentum and to not settle for less. This is likely a crucial piece of advice as it will indicate their hunger for success.
“They are almost near the end now,” stated Tui.
“I’ve told the lions not to get complacent and keep showing that fighting warrior spirit. But most importantly, show heart and not make excuses.”
Liam Fury is a treasure to New Zealand wrestling. Born in the small city of Taupo, Fury relocated to Auckland in 2008 to begin his wrestling journey. Fury has competed throughout NZ and across Australia, his greatest achievement to date is being a three-time NZ Heavyweight Champion. Fury is much regarded as the best wrestler in the country. His favourite wrestlers include Shawn Michaels, Minoru Suzuki and KUSHIDA. With his accolades behind him, Fury has taken a major step in embarking on the three-month pro wrestling course at Fale Dojo. Fury hopes to progress onto the New Japan Pro Wrestling Dojo in Tokyo to further his knowledge and to eventually become a member of New Japan’s world-class roster. This, a goal that he has always wanted to achieve.
Previous to his arrival at Fale Dojo, Fury had trained in MMA at a different facility. However, months into his membership he started comprehending that in order for him to be serious about his dream, he would have to alter his circumstances.
“Before I came to Fale Dojo in 2018, I had trained in MMA at another gym for a few months,” said Fury.
“I realised that if I really wanted to accomplish my goal of wrestling in Japan, I would need to start taking steps and head in the right direction.”
Fury enrolled in the advanced wrestling programme at Fale Dojo, he shared that his decision to train at the Dojo aligned with his hopes. He was also drawn to the Dojo’s positive and nurturing atmosphere.
“Fale Dojo was the best option for me to achieve my goal. So I made the choice to register for the advanced course,” explained Fury.
“The environment at the Dojo was inspiring and I enjoyed it,’ he added.
“I always wanted to come to Fale Dojo.”
“I had conversations with Fale-San and Tony-San about the three-month course,” he said. “Their advice pushed me to decide to do it.”
Fury had previous knowledge of the Japanese culture that was paramount to the course as some of the customs had been established in the advanced programme. Fury’s aim is to be consistent in applying the teachings to his everyday life.
“I’ve known about some of the Japanese’ cultural values that are instilled into the training such as respect your elders and senior, and cleanliness,” stated Fury.
“I have to apply them as opposed to my life before. It’s very easy to get comfortable and forget so I’ve had to train myself to try to stay in that mindset.”
Fury also expressed his excitement in being part of a big, diverse group. He appreciates the lions’ openness to learning and applying new methods, and he values genuine support amongst the group.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie in this large and diverse group,” Fury added.
“This is the biggest benefit when you’re training with many others who are as dedicated and like-minded.”
“When one is struggling there are many hands there at the ready to help you out, even if it’s just a word of motivation.”
Fury told that his greatest challenge is being mentally stretched during the arduous workouts and having to find the extra strength to carry on. It is only until afterwards that he begins to recognise the results.
“My biggest challenges has been managing to overcome the mental block I have when it comes to doing something like 1000 squats,” Fury shared.
“My mind tells me to stop and I have to remind myself with every repetition why I am here, what I am here to accomplish and what I need to prove to myself.”
“After my body has rested, I can feel myself becoming stronger, fitter and gaining more endurance every day.”
“My body has already started to make physical changes from the hard work and I’m looking forward to seeing the results,”
Although he has many years’ experience, Fury said that he has grasped an understanding of wrestling that he hadn’t noticed previously. Fury hopes to gain more insight as he develops.
“I still see wrestling matches much the same, but even in just the last month I have learned about more details to see that I couldn’t before and I expect to keep learning more,” concluded Fury.
Justin Hesselton, from Stamford, Connecticut, USA, has been a wrestling fan since the age of two when his father brought it to his attention. Hesselton’s favourite wrestlers while growing up were Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith. He knew from an early age that he wanted to become a pro wrestler. In fact, when he was five years old, he vowed to his parents that he would one day wrestle. When Hesselton turned 16, he bought his first New Japan Pro Wrestling tape which featured Jushin “Thunder” Liger. The Japanese style had a profound impact on Hesselton the teenager so much that it made him a huge NJPW fan and he made it his ultimate career objective to wrestle in New Japan. A year later, Hesselton took his first step into the wrestling world, receiving his initial training from Paul Roma. Two years after, he gained further training at the Funking Conservatory, headed by the legendary, Dory Funk Jr.
“Training with Roma was hard,” said Hesselton, as he spoke freely of his experience learning from the ‘young stallion’.
“He (Roma) wouldn’t let us in the ring at first, and he’d make us take bumps on the concrete and sometimes on the little gym mats.”
Hesselton had a more pleasant education with Dory Jr. the former NWA World Champion.
“Dory was good,” Hesselton added.
“He wasn’t too hands on, but he critiqued on small stuff. We didn’t do a lot of conditioning.”
Hesselton grew his craft competing on the Northeast Independent scene in Connecticut and Massachusetts as well as in Florida at Funk’s promotion, ‘BANG!’
However, during the infancy of his journey, Hesselton would lose sight of his wrestling ambitions due to other matters which took priority over his life.
“It was a rough time for me,” Hesselton admitted, expressing his regret.
“I was young and dumb and just had things in my life pop up that seemed important at the time so unfortunately, wrestling took a back seat.”
Some years later, Hesselton regained his passion for wrestling. Still a follower of NJPW, he re-committed himself to his goal to compete in New Japan.
He found his avenue to Japan when he came across the Fale Dojo Facebook page. Seeing the close affiliation between the Dojo and New Japan, Hesselton registered for the three-month pro wrestling course.
“When I first arrived at Fale Dojo, I was nervously excited,” Hesselton recalled.
Coming from his previous training, Hesselton cited the biggest distinction that separates Fale Dojo from the other camps, aside from the aggressive training, is the Dojo’s approach to understanding and embracing the diversity of their students. This allows the trainers the ability to relate with the Young Lions and present them with a thoroughly thought out curriculum that would help them see wrestling different from before.
“The training here at Fale Dojo is the most gruelling training I’ve ever gone through in my entire life without question,” expressed Hesselton.
“Fale-San, Tony-San and Mark-San make me look at the business differently than I ever had.”
“Their way of explaining and breaking down not just the moves but more importantly the psychology and just the business as a whole makes you think outside the box.”
“Fale Dojo finds a way to connect with you, which to me makes all the difference in the world because everyone is different.”
Since training commenced, Hesselton found his biggest challenges to be the intense training and being away from home. He discovered the remedy of pushing through the workouts was a changed mindset. As a result, Hesselton realised he was capable of going beyond his restrictions.
“My biggest challenges have been the intensity of the workouts and being so far away from home,” he shared.
“To overcome these hurdles, I’ve had to change the way my mind works and get myself being more positive and it’s helped me tremendously to keep pushing forward.”
“I’ve learned to be stronger mentally and to realize I can do things that before I didn’t think were possible and really persevere through those mental barriers.”
Hesselton, who is Italian-American has a strong connection to his family as is also central in the Japanese, Pasifika, and Maori cultures. With every intake, Fale Dojo aims to integrate the values of community and family for team building purposes as well as in Hesselton’s case to support those separated from their loved ones. Though he is oceans away from his home, Hesselton has gained a new support system with the Young Lions and the Dojo staff.
“Being part of such a big and diverse group you really get a sense of how to keep each other motivated and how to help each other keep pushing forward and not letting your brothers and sister fall behind,” Hesselton noted.
“There is a big sense of camaraderie with our group which definitely translates into our training.”
Hesselton’s long-term goal is still the same as it was when he was 16 years old, to reach New Japan Pro Wrestling. He is also considering returning to Fale Dojo, his home away from home to further develop his skills.
“The ultimate goal is to get to the New Japan Dojo and wrestle for New Japan,” said Hesselton in closing.
“I also see myself coming back to New Zealand to continue to train at the Fale Dojo to work on my craft.”
Stacey McInnes is the first female student to join the three-month pro wrestling course at Fale Dojo. Born in Blenheim in New Zealand’s south island, McInnes has travelled the world as it has always been an interest of hers to visit other countries and experience their cultures. McInnes began her wrestling journey in 2011 while living in Queensland, Australia. She gained her initial training from the Queensland City Wrestling promotion before becoming an active member of the roster.
“I started in QCW in 2011,” said McInnes, the lioness.
“I trained there and started wrestling for a couple of years, and we ran monthly events.”
McInnes was confronted with a number of challenges during her time in Australia. Having sustained two major injuries on separate occasions. The severity of each injury kept McInnes out of action for a combined two years. When she returned from the first setback, Queensland Championship Wrestling had closed down. She then sought after the closest training facility which for her was time-consuming on her travels. Nevertheless, McInnes made the facility her new training ground.
“I broke my shoulder at training when I first became injured, and it was worse than expected,” explained McInnes.
“It took me a year before I could go back to training. When I finally was able to train again, QCW had shut down. I found a new place which was pretty good but really it was far away.”
“When I got injured again, I snapped my ACL and ruptured my meniscus. It took me right out for over a year.”
“I came back as soon as I could and was finding it hard to look for places that ran training regularly.”
McInnes caught the attention of Rionne Fujiwara, a local wrestler and trainer. Fujiwara admired McInnes for her tenacity and invited her to train at his seminar.
“Rionne Fujiwara was running a training session that I attended. He was impressed with how hard I had worked to get back on my feet,” stated McInnes.
“Rionne invited me to train with him for a month and a bit at his seminar which was also tied to some wrestling events.”
McInnes initially thought that she would only be training until she was asked to wrestle.
“I trained three times a week, though I was not expecting to wrestle. I had four matches” she recalled.
While at the seminar, she would also meet Johnny Gardner, a fellow New Zealander who had made the move to Australia, and a Fale Dojo graduate.
Not feeling as confident as she hoped, McInnes contemplated quitting pro wrestling, until a discussion with Gardner called her back to New Zealand.
“I felt I still needed so much more work,” explained McInnes.
“I spoke to Johnny about being disappointed in myself, but Johnny advised me to come to Fale Dojo.”
With Gardner’s recommendation, McInnes registered for the three-month pro wrestling course. McInnes was not concerned with the outcome as she turned to her faith to keep her at peace.
“I thought I either quit and give up this crazy obsession or train again. I decided I would apply and if I got accepted I’d do it. I literally said a prayer and applied,” she said.
“When I found out I got in, I literally came back to NZ and began preparing for the Dojo.”
Over the course of her time at Fale Dojo, McInnes has noticed a great difference in training. She alluded to the style which teaches the lions to wrestle and move naturally. This makes the matches flow rather than looking choreographed.
“In my previous training, we were taught sequences and thinking ahead. At Fale Dojo, wrestling is broken down to its basics. It’s like bringing wrestling back to its roots,” an observation which McInnes picked up on.
“I like that the wrestling match is being deconstructed to understand the body before reconstructing it back to its full form.”
McInnes revealed her biggest challenge is being the only female in the group and trusting the other students to protect her in the ring. She is also tested by the demands of the training sessions.
As she reaches the halfway point in the three-month pro wrestling course, McInnes sees wrestling with a deeper understanding.
“In the last six weeks, I’ve been learning to trust my fellow Dojo bros, and I’ve been pushed way past my physical and mental limits,” she said.
“I feel like, everything I’ve learned before is being broken down and rebuilt. I’m now seeing wrestling through different eyes.”
McInnes credits her grandparents, especially her grandfather Sam McInnes for the legacy that he left behind. Sam McInnes was an amateur wrestling champion. Trained by NZ wrestling great Anton Koolman, McInnes captured the NZ Light Heavyweight Title in 1939. He also served in World War II.
“I get my inspiration from my Grandfather and Grandmother,” said the proud lioness, as she spoke of her family’s heritage.
“My granddad grew up so sick that he couldn’t play or do chores. He was so sick that when his parents took him to be seen in the hospital, the doctors were shocked that he was still alive,” McInnes revealed.
“After years of being weak, he just apparently decided that he was going change his life.”
“He researched health and nutrition and applied his knowledge to become strong and build his body. Granddad already had the height, he was 6 foot 4 inches.”
McInnes has seen significant parallels between her grandfather’s story and the teachings at Fale Dojo. This gives her great comfort as she relies on her family and the Dojo’s fighting spirit to take her through to the remainder of her training.
“My grandfather was not born with natural strength but he just decided to go make himself strong,” concluded McInnes.
“That stuff comes from the heart and a strong mind to never quit, much like the fighting spirit that we are pushed to find within us at Fale Dojo.”
Over the course of conducting nine interviews, published across three articles it is clear that Fale Dojo contributes positively to people’s lives in more ways than simply their primary goal which is to train their students for professional wrestling. The interviews have shown us that built within Fale Dojo is a strong sense of togetherness, team building and bonding which is the equivalent to building a strong sense of community values. Life lessons of respect, being supportive to one another are vital in all walks of life, not just professional wrestling and it is clear that Fale Dojo not only prepares you for a career in pro wrestling but helps build on vital skills needed as one’s life progresses they work to achieve their ultimate goal which is a place on the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster.